In 2005, with funding from the state, the community hired one of its own, Eric Larnach, to lead them in identifying “what was wrong in the area and what we’d like to see happen,” he says. The next year, community members drafted a development plan and identified various projects they wanted to implement.
In the beginning, the plans were simple. “Quite a few of our residents travel for government jobs,” explains Larnach. “There’s only one main road that links us with the south and the north, and the last bus was at 5 p.m…. for anybody who didn’t have a car, it was like the end of the world at 5 p.m.”
So community members secured funding from the state for a seven-seat van with disability access. In exchange, they committed to providing volunteer drivers. Today, the shuttle is very popular. Community members pay a small fee, which Larnach says is less than the bus fare, for trips to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping or the retirement home in one of the towns. The shuttle is managed, operated and maintained by volunteers.
By the time the Initiative at the Edge funds ran out in 2008, the community had created the Latheron Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company through which to apply for other government funds. “Usually, 10 to 20 percent of the projects’ financing comes from us,” says Larnach, the company’s secretary. For example, the company recently purchased a customized wood-burning incinerator that cost £45,000 ($73,000). “Our input was £4,000 [$6,500], and then we’ve agreed to the work afterwards: all the redecorating that has to be done once the company installs the stove, the remedial work to finish off the building. We’ll do all of that or project management.”
The community recently raised £8,000 ($13,000) to assist in purchasing land for an eventual wind farm that will produce £200,000 to £300,000 ($325,000 to $490,000) a year in income for the community. “We held fundraisers, put on events: a dance, a yard sale,” says Larnach. Community members also built a small golf course to attract tourists and are building a resource center, with solar panels for domestic hot water and heat.
Residents offer gardening plots and have built a small greenhouse where individuals can “have a box and grow their own vegetables.” In all instances, the government calculates the value of the community’s in-kind contribution to ensure it is adequate. “We’re just trying to give the people of our area a fair chance and similar services to what people in the main towns get,” says Larnach.
Not only in Europe are communities organizing to finance and manage their own development projects. Similar activities are taking place throughout the U.S. as citizens contend with cash-strapped federal and state governments and financial institutions still reluctant to lend.
Consider Hogback Mountain property, a 591-acre (240-hectare) parcel of land in southern Vermont that came up for sale in 2006 and included Hogback Mountain, a now-shuttered ski area famous for its sweeping, 100-mile views. When a commercial developer announced plans to build on the property—which includes extensive wildlife habitat, pristine forests and critical wetlands—residents from neighboring towns organized to form the Hogback Mountain Conservation Association, a non-profit group committed to preserving the land.
But it wasn’t easy. In partnership with the Vermont Land Trust, a non-profit land conservation organization, Association members determined they would need $1.73 million to purchase the land, conserve it and create an adequate endowment for future expenses.
“The community came together because they believed that the best possible final ownership of this land is with the Town of Marlboro, as a town forest,” explains Elise Annes, vice-president for community relations at the Vermont Land Trust. “They wanted to guarantee that uses such as education, recreation, forestry and the protection of wildlife habitat would continue to benefit this generation and future ones.”
To that end, five individuals with financial resources purchased the land in the interim, so it wouldn’t be sold to developers. That gave the non-profit organizations time to fundraise. Incredibly, over four years, they secured $1.29 million from more than 300 individuals and 19 private organizations, with the remaining $450,000 coming from state and federal funds. On March 31, 2010, the entire 591 acres (240 hectares) were officially designated the Hogback Mountain Conservation Area and deeded to the town of Marlboro as public land protected by a permanent conservation easement.
A town committee and the Association jointly manage the property, administering trail maintenance and education programs in partnership with local schools and nearby Marlboro College, which allows the land to function simultaneously as a thriving wildlife corridor and a place that invites low-impact, environmentally friendly recreation.
Hogback Mountain is one of many examples of land conservation undertaken by a community. Many town forests throughout the U.S. have been established under similar circumstances, as have community farms, public beaches and recreation areas. With government budgets likely to remain low for the foreseeable future and financial institutions continuing to restrict lending, these sorts of community-led initiatives will become more important—a real and viable option for projects that qualify as priorities for individual communities but aren’t on the radar screens of the larger, more traditional agencies.
Loren Berlin has firsthand experience of DIY financing; she spent five years working in community development funding in Texas and North Carolina.
Photo: TLF Design